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WORKING WITH SHARKS: Countering Sexual Harassment

January 15, 2012

I recently attended a talk/book launch by Dr. Fouzia Saeed   at Café Bol for her new book Working With Sharks. For most of the talk I was not very much impressed and I thought this woman has done some good things by getting the parliament to pass sexual harassment laws and to highlight this touchy issue in Pakistan through her Aasha Foundation. But at the same time I was skeptical since having a law will not really make a big difference to people’s behavior unless the things which produce it are changed or removed.

Dr Fouzia

I also felt that she was a bit anti man/male for some reason and I am ashamed to admit it, but what came to my mind was that a possible reason for this behavior was that she was now getting back at somebody who had done her wrong when she was young. Now the above is just impressions, but that is how I reacted to the topic she was talking about. I was not particularly receptive because I felt like I was being told what to do or even being assumed to be guilty just because I am Pakistani man.

Even now most of the above is still true for me. But what did make an impact on my stubborn patriarchal mindset (joke maybe true?) was a little example she gave of how it was not possible for her to go to Main Market and just browse, dilly-dally around, window-shop, in short, stroll. She could not stroll. Strolling is a right which only men are given in Pakistan she said.

Dr Fouzia said that a woman in Pakistan cannot stroll alone. If she does have to walk alone, then she must make a very firm and determined face, chart the shortest route to her destination, and then, make a dash for it. This is so true. If you do see a women walking alone in Pakistan she will have this determined, clenched, almost angry sort of expression on her face as she walks fairly quickly, keeping her eyes down at the road in front of her.

Now the rest of what she said probably I will continue to still find some issues with. I am not against there be laws which protect against harassment. Of course that is a good thing. I just don’t like the anti-man aspect to some of the stuff she said. Comments like, that she gets harassed almost every time she leaves the house. It seemed to me that in her eyes women are almost constantly being harassed. I get the feeling that some of that “harassment” might just be pretty natural laws of attraction. (But I am open and accept that I could be wrong on this.)

Anyway, but let’s focus on the part that was effective for me, the strolling deprived women of Pakistan . I do feel that is highly unfair. Especially, as I thought about it some more later, that strolling is a bit like an expression of freedom or free will. When do people stroll? Its when you have time to waste, it’s when you want to just see the sights & sounds of  a place, window shop, maybe eat a little snack food etc. All things associated not with necessity but with choice and leisure.

Of course it is true that women can stroll in the more socially acceptable format of a group of two or more, or alternatively with their male relatives. But there is something about having the independence to do it alone and do whatever it is that YOU want. I guess our culture discourages women to do thing independently and that is the same as being taught to be dependent.

So I’ve inched just a little towards feministic thinking. I want the women of Pakistan to have the right to stroll.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jessica permalink
    January 17, 2012 1:02 pm

    Good article! I’m interested to find her book now.

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